Human Presence

Human Presence
Robert Bergman '93

On January 6, 2021, I felt sick and had four COVID-19 symptoms but not the big three: fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Because of current protocols, I stayed home and eventually took a rapid test. By 4:37 p.m., the test cleared me of having COVID, and what a relief that was.

Two things happened that day.

1. I wasn’t at school to teach my first Superhero class for seniors, and a few colleagues subbed for me.

I wasn’t able to set the tone of my class in person, which had never happened before in my career. I video conferenced with my class and talked about expectations, I went over rules and standards of the class, but I didn’t actually see the class—and that felt strange to me. I wanted to be there in person so that they could see my body language and understand that I wanted the best for them throughout the semester. My presence helps make the class what it is. My students can see the enthusiasm I have for my subject, and hopefully my enthusiasm inspires their own.

By not being there, I felt as if I had failed in a way; however, my staying home also helped with their safety.

I felt torn, and when I returned to class on Friday, I got down to business and had a wonderful day with my students. I fell asleep early that night, exhausted from doing my best.

When I wrote in my journal the next morning in reflection of Friday, I realized Wednesday that I had literally phoned it in; all I wanted to do was get through the info and away from the screen to let the students work on a short reflection I gave them to do at the end of class. I felt so disconnected from them that I didn’t want to sit there any longer than I had to. I was ill, that’s for sure, but it wasn’t that: to be my best teacher self, I needed to be with my students to show them the class as well as explain the class. When I finished with my in-person classes on Friday, I knew that I had succeeded in being there in body, mind, and soul, because I was exhausted.

2. The Capitol building was attacked by an angry mob of insurrectionists with some of the most hateful speech I had ever heard or seen in my lifetime.

I was fortunate—or unfortunate—enough to see it all play out from the comfort of my home and couch. As I sat uncomfortably in illness, I watched people treat others as I know they didn’t want to be treated. No one wanted to be treated that way.

As the day unfolded, and more and more information came to light, there were many striking images and experiences expressed. The most impactful for me was when Congresswoman Norma Torres said she answered a phone call from her son and said, “Sweetheart, I'm OK. I'm running for my life.” This phone call startled me for many reasons. I realized that I couldn’t imagine saying that to my son as I ran for my life because I came in to do my job for the day; albeit an important work day, but a work day nonetheless. Her presence put her in danger.

Everyone who went to work that day to do their job was put in danger that day. Her presence put her in harm’s way.

I couldn’t believe that as she fled and sheltered in secret, people around her still refused to wear masks in close quarters. She had a threat from the outside and from the inside.

Because of Congresswoman Torres’ frantic call, it occurred to me that everyone in that situation on January 6, 2021—from the people hiding in fear to the people wantonly attempting to dismantle American democracy—they all have families. People existed outside of this attempted coup who love and cherish those involved.

A call to unity rang through the halls of Congress yesterday, January 13, 2021, when President Trump was impeached for the second time, and I wondered where this unity can come from?

Maybe instead of getting wrapped up in opposing ideologies and theories, we focus on what really brings us together—our humanity.

Stop treating other people as if they are things and focus on the lives they live. A fist pump to an angry mob or a “Trial by Combat” battle cry does not take into account that there are actual people who could and would eventually get hurt and die. PEOPLE. Not a group of things or ideas, but living breathing, loving and loved, PEOPLE went to work that day to do the job they were hired to do and then return home after a hard day of being present, probably exhausted, knowing that they worked hard doing the job that was asked of them by the United States.

We are the only animal on this planet that will die for an ideology. We throw our most sacred temples in harm’s way for intangible concepts. We are the only animal that doesn’t have a submit posture like other apex predators. It is what makes us special but also foolhardy. Life is temporary but death is eternal. We are only present for a short time and we should all try to leave the world a better place than when we arrived. So, let’s start with the most basic idea there is: we are all human, and through our humanity we can find common ground.

Kindness costs nothing; hatred costs everything.

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